In the wake of last summer’s catastrophic failure of the Grandstand Stage at the Indiana State Fair experts in structural engineering and emergency response were asked to investigate. Their reports were released today.

By Bill Evans

After the failure of the roof structure over a stage at the Indiana State Fair left 7 dead and 58 injured, one of the first things state officials did was call in the experts. Two firms were retained to investigate the engineering and construction of the truss structure (Thorton Tomasetti) and the way events leading up to the “incident” were handled. These are the big boys. Thorton Tomasetti investigated the 2007 I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Witt Associates is a public safety and crisis management firm headed up by former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director James Lee Witt.

WARNING: This is not “light reading.” The Thorton Tomasetti report is a 500MB, 110 page pdf download. The executive summary is 11 pages by itself. The Witt report is smaller. Only 50MB for the full report.

Thorton Tomasetti Executive Summary


PDFs Slides from TT’s Report Presentation

Witt Associates Executive Summary

Witt Associates Full Report

Witt Associates PowerPoint Presentation

The Highlights

1) Failure was due to inadequate capacity of the “lateral load resisting system” (guy wires attached to K-rails)

2) As rigged on August 13, 2011, the structure could withstand winds of 25-43 MPH depending on the direction of the wind. Code calls for 68 MPH and actual wind gusts hit 59 MPH

3) The K-rail basllast system had “grossly inadaquate capacity.”

4) Even if the ballast had held, the guy wires and truss “fin plate” connections would have failed in winds as measured on August 13, 2011

5) The roof tarp and Sugarland’s LED scrim (two of the things pointed to as potential issues immediatly after the event) had no effect on the failure. Wind tunnel tests show the structure failing at the August 13, 2011 wind speeds even without the roof tarp or LED scrim in place.

6) Structural analysis was inadaquate in terms of actual load and environmental conditions and installation did not conform to directions contained in the calculations of the structural analysis.

The Witt Associates report focused on the chain of command, emergency plans and events leading up to the structural failure. The short version is poor communication between fair officials and the band and the lack of a clearly defined “ultimate authority” on-site who could shut the show down and evacuate the area.

Later on the same day the reports were released, the Event Safety Alliance released the following: 

On April 23rd founding members of the Event Safety Alliance will be taking our mission to Indiana meeting there with officials including the NFPA, IATSE, IDHS, IOSHA and a broad reaching group of entertainment industry veterans. We will be strengthening the relationship between government officials and industry leaders ensuring that we are working together to improve industry best practices in the interest of life safety. 

Motivated by the unfortunate tragedies at multiple entertainment events in 2011 a wide ranging group of industry veterans came together to form the Event Safety Alliance. These individuals include staging and temporary structure manufacturers and engineers, event safety and security directors, artist production managers, private meteorological services, equipment manufacturers, industry safety training directors, the IATSE, venue managers, industry standards writers, industry insurance underwriters and industry attorneys. 

Our mission: 
-Gather into one resource the broad-reaching, existing body of best practices already in circulation 
-Provide a clear concise body of best practice guidelines for the event production industry. This resource would evolve with time as improved measures are created 
-Collaborate with government and industry to find the best strategies for inspection practices and confirmation that events are being produced with life safety as priority one 
-Aid in creating the working & steering groups of industry professionals for the purpose of refining the body of work 
-Aid in creating task specific training and certification programs for all levels of individuals involved in risk management 
-Have this body of work become the GLOBAL standard of best practices 
-Reinforce “life safety first” as the priority of the industry

END 4/12/2012 UPDATE


The Event Safety Alliance issued the folllowing letter today.

Having spent the last two weeks immersed in continuing education in our field, I am more confident than ever before that after 30 years in the entertainment industry (23 of them on the road), there is still much to learn.

The issue of life safety is firmly in the forefront of our discussions and should be your first consideration in every decision you make.  Our roles and expertise position us to take tangible steps to ensure that the tragedies of last year are not likely to happen again. 

The Indiana government has asked the Indiana Fire Protection Association and the local Building Safety Commission (OSHA) to write standards governing the way we build stages and conduct business on a show site.  We, as an industry, are capable of creating these standards internally and will be better served by taking the initiative to partner with the governmental bodies that intend to regulate us.  We operate a unique and safe industry, much of what we do will be completely foreign to the standards and codes set forth by those in building and fire safety and it is imperative that we build a cooperative relationship. 

The first step in the process is ensuring that you and the individuals you are hiring, including the staging and roof vendors are following at the very least the minimum standards set forth in ANSI E1.21 2006. Additionally, be sure that the “Requirements for Outdoor Structures” is in your artist contract and follow up with your promoters and purchasers to ensure they are using qualified resources who follow this standard.

Equally as important, if not more so, is to have and practice an Emergency Action Plan for every reasonably foreseeable thing that could go wrong.  Procedures and plans are the essential tools of preparedness – without them, and without practicing them, you are inviting greater danger.  Unfortunately, many reading this may share a dangerous mindset by thinking “I’ve been doing it this way for 20 years, why should I change now?” or some may even be saying, “I know everything there is to know about safety.” Ask yourself this: do you believe these statements will stand up in a court of law when you are called to defend your or your clients’ actions? 

As the adult in charge YOU are responsible and have an obligation in a court of law to the “duty of care.” 

Weather is but one example of a laundry list of executable plans that you, as a professional, should have in place.  The models and matrix for these plans are easier than you may expect: prepare, prevent, respond and recover.  

For example, you should have a written “Severe Weather Operations Plan” that you share with the promoters, venue managers and local authorities in your daily event briefing.  You should also be communicating these plans to your team and practicing them to minimize your risk of disaster.  These plans should follow the common language set forth by the DHS so there is no need for interpretation by the other agencies you are sharing them with.  To prepare such a plan for weather, please read the AVSS guide.

YES, I’ve had just as much fun as the next guy in the good old cowboy days of rock & roll but we exist in a much different place now.  Our industry is under a microscope resulting from the multiple tragedies of last year.  EVERYTHING you do is on camera and available on Facebook often before you are even aware it has happened.  Intentionally or otherwise, social media is now and forever a component of the shows we produce. 

In the greatly expanding complexity of events we are producing it is important to have your priorities in the right place – show-quality is a significant concern but human safety MUST remain priority one at all times.  

Our clients, their management, their insurance agents, and their lawyers all have higher expectations of those they have entrusted to lead them on the road.  YOU!

Over the coming weeks the Event Safety Alliance will be presenting a “Best Practices Protocol” for Tour and Production Managers which will provide a list of strategies and resources for thorough and effective safety management.  Additionally, we will be presenting a model/template that will assist you in constructing your in-house emergency operation plans, and a long list of established resources available online to increase your knowledge of what is expected of those in positions of responsibility.  I can’t recommend highly enough that you participate in the annual IAVM/AVSS training and the annual Severe Weather Preparedness school. 

In the interest of keeping our industry moving forward please forward this letter to your colleagues and ask them to join the Event Safety Alliance and lend their voice.

Stay safe out there,

The Team at Event Safety Alliance 

UPDATE 2-21-2012, Noon PST:  Source-Associated Press. 

“Fans who were killed and injured when stage rigging and sound equipment collapsed onto them as they awaited a Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair failed to take steps to ensure their own safety and are at least in part to blame for their injuries, the country duo’s attorneys said. 

The statement, part of a Feb. 16 response to a civil suit filed by survivors and families of some of those killed, comes in sharp contrast to earlier statements by lead singer Jennifer Nettles and appears to be an attempt to cast blame elsewhere.

Calling the powerful winds that toppled the stage on Aug. 13 an “act of God,” Sugarland’s attorneys said fair officials and Mid-America Sound Corp. were responsible for the stage setup, and that the fans voluntarily assumed risk by attending the show.

“Some or all of the plaintiffs’ claimed injuries resulted from their own fault,” according to the band’s response.

A deposition of the fair director claims that reps for Sugarland were approached twice about delaying the show and declined. The band’s tour manager claims that no such discussions ever occured. In a Jan. 16 deposition on a lawsuit against Mid-America, Indiana State Fair Commission Executive Director Cindy Hoye testified that Sugarland resisted delaying the start of the concert despite threatening weather.

Hoye said a representative for a concert promotion company working with the fair twice approached Sugarland about the fair’s desire to delay the show. But Hoye said the band expressed concerns about how a delay would affect the time singer Jennifer Nettles’ needed to warm up and complicate the band’s travel to its next show. Hoye also said that the fair offered to pay for additional hands to load in the band’s show the following day but that the delay request was still denied.

UPDATE 2/12/2012,  7:34 PM PST      Months before the OSHA/IATSE Local 30/Indiana State Fair Commission/Mid-America blame-fest got ramped up, a group of production managers and others involved in planning outdoor gigs was working to do something about it.

Ironically their biggest news to date–that the bands Linkin Park and Phish had agreed to adopt language in the artist contract addressing stage safety issues–has been overshadowed by the flurry of news and social network commentary about the citations the Indiana OSHA issued to the fair commission, Local 30 and Mid-America.

“Over 11,000 shows were successfully produced without incident….there were five catastrophic events around the world where fans were critically injured or perished; one incident of this nature is too many,” said Linkin Park tour manager Jim Digby.

You can get more info on the group and get involved here.


UPDATE 2/8/2012, 11:30 PM.   In the wake of Indiana OSHA levying fines and citing the state, IATSE Local 30 and Mid-America SOund for violation of labor and saftey codes in the Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse, Mid America has released testimoney that they say point to the band Sugarland as being responisble for the event not being delayed and people evacuatied before the storm hit.

This is all being reported on the Fox59 Web site. You can read the entire story here.,0,1311239.column

Fox59 says that, following the OSHA report’s release, Mid-America Sound released Indiana State Fair Commission Executive Director Cynthia Hoye’s testimony which they said proves Sugarland is to blame for the tragedy. 

Hoye testified that Sugarland refused to delay the concert twice. 

She said an employee went to talk to Sugarland to discuss delaying the concert but “the lead singer took 30 minutes to warm up, and there was a concern about timing because of her need to warm up and if she warmed up and went on stage but then had to come back. So there was a lot of conversation about her needing to warm up.”

Hoye also said the employee who talked to lead singer Jennifer Nettles said the band was worried about their next gig. 

“The other part of the conversation was that they were trying to get to Iowa to play the Iowa State Fair, and so they said they did not want to delay,” said Hoye. 

Hoye said she sent the employee to talk to the band for a second time around 8 p.m. that night. 

“what took place was a conversation that included, What can we do to convince you to delay; can we pay for extra stagehands in Des Moines; can we reduce the set time period. So it was trying to encourage them to accept what the venue wanted, which was a delay,” said Hoye. 

She said the band again refused to delay the concert. 

Hoye also testified that Sugarland was upset by the amount of Indiana State Police Officers backstage. 

Mid-America Sound also released the following statement Wednesday:

“We disagree with the findings issued today and strongly object to their classification as knowing violations.

“Mid-America Sound was consistent and clear with the Indiana State Fair Commission about the limitations of the temporary roof structure in high winds or severe inclement weather.

“Each year for nearly a decade, we warned the Commission, in writing, that “The roof or top shall not be used in high winds and or severe inclement weather. High winds meaning 25 MPH and above.”  In the case of the structure used for the Sugarland concert, the threshold was 40 mph for evacuation.

“On the evening of the incident one of our employees reconfirmed with State Fair leadership that if there was lightening or wind speeds of 40 mph or more, the area should be evacuated.

“Despite these warnings, the Indiana State Fair Commission, who controlled the venue, and Sugarland, who controlled the concert, refused to postpone the concert and failed to implement an evacuation plan away from the temporary roof structure.”


Indiana OSHA has released it’s findings regarding the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair .  Lots of fingers being pointed and  it’s getting ugly.

Back in October, SoundProLive started asking the question: Will IATSE Be the Designated Scapegoat?     Well, it appears that question has been answered and the answer is , “Yes.”

The report released Wed. morning cited three organizations for failures involved in the state fair tragedy:

  • The Indiana State Fair Commission for failure to conduct a life safety evaluation and was assessed a $6,300 penalty 
  • Local 30, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, for three “serious violations” and one “non-serious violation.” Citations included failure to consider soil conditions when placing cable anchor points for the grandstand stage, failure to provide fall protection for employees working 4 feet or more above ground level, failure to conduct a personal protective equipment hazard assessment of the worksite. Non-serious violation involved failure to maintain proper OSHA records for 4 years. 

    Penalties of $3,500 were assessed for each serious violation. 
    A penalty of $1,000 for the non-serious violation. The total penalty assessed against Local 30 was $11,500 

  • Mid-America Sound for three “knowing violations” 

    The citations include failure to develop and implement an Operations Management Plan, failure to develop a risk assessment plan, failure to maintain and use current engineering calculations and documentation, failure to provide appropriate, qualified supervision. Each knowing violation was assessed a penalty of $21,000 for a total penalty of $63,000.

Mid-America’s knowing violations are the most severe the department can issue.

“The evidence demonstrated that the Mid-America Sound Corporation was aware of the appropriate requirements and demonstrated a plain indifference to complying with those requirements,” Indiana Department of Labor Commissioner Lori Torres said.

The report was released after Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration has already sent a one-page handwritten document to Local 30 leaders that identified THE UNION as the employer and maintained that IATSE had responsibility for a laundry list of items.  

“Employer did not maintain a log of injuries and illnesses or provide fall protection and training for heights greater than four feet. The employer did not conduct protective hazard assessments or determine soil conditions when placing guy wires and anchors and finally, the employer failed to designate a competent person for construction of the load-bearing roof.”

That’s direct from the document which was released by IATSE Local 30’s attorney, Bill Groth. And, right or wrong, it is pretty obvious that IOSHA is going to blame the union and damage control has begun. At issue is the long-time argument over whether a union is an employer. IATSE maintains that it is not. In an interview with WTHR, Groth says, “Local 30 is not an employer. They’re a labor organization, a union.” said Groth. “They’re making suggestions that we had some ultimate decision making control over the manner that structure was erected and that’s just blatantly absurd.

With the report–which will list alleged violations and set fines but more importantly will be used by attorneys representing those hurt and the families of those killed in the accident–due in just a few hours, Local 30 business manager John Baldwin is now alleging that a heated feud took place on the stage as the storms rolled in  regarding bringing stagehands Nathan Byrd, Enoch Vinnegar, Steve Stoyer and Kyle Covert down because of lightning. Baldwin has not said who was involved in the dispute.

“They controlled the premises, they were responsible for ensuring the safety of everyone who came onto the State Fairgrounds,” Groth said. “The State Fair officials had ample warning and notice, they made the decision to proceed with the show, the winds obviously wreaked havoc on that roof structure, but now to suggest it was faultily constructed and that Local 30 had some responsibility for that, that’s just outrageous,” Groth said.

So what does it all mean? In the overall scheme of things, the fines are minimal. Remember lawsuits in the hundreds of millions of dollars have already been filed or notice of intent to file has been given. By issuing this report, IOSHA is making it clear that in the opinion of the agency, the greatest blame lies with Mid-America Sound, second place goes to the Union with a minor role played by the State. We can argue forever about if that is right or wrong but it really doesn’t matter. We are talking about the wonderful American Civil Justice system here. And that is all about money. And a report like this may give lawyers something to point to when asking for specific damages. And as a large entity with lots of money in the bank (never mind that most of that money is in pension funds) IATSE is an attractive target. Especially given that the State of Indiana is capped at $5 million per incident of liability. And that cap is state law. Mid-America, as the provider of the audio, lighting and stage will pursued for damages. But according at various industry sources, Mid-America carries about $1 million in insurance for an event like this. Which makes IATSE the biggest and easiest money target. And a report that lists the union as the employer and cites them for three “serious” violations virtually guaranties that they will be dealing with lawsuits about the collapse for years.

On a more positive note, a group of live production industry heavy hitters has put together a document to be appended to artists’ contracts for events that lays out very specific stage safety standards. That document has already been adopted by some A-list acts as part of their show contracts including Linkin Park and Phish. SPL will have more about this effort to organize safety issues on the gig in the coming days. Stay tuned.